By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire March 26, 2010 at 3:54AM
Comment forums and the Facebook page for one of the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival's films, "Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives," have lit up with comments debating the perceived offensiveness of the film, which will have its world premiere at the event in late April. The film, directed by Dallas-based openly gay writer-director Israel Luna, is set to premiere April 23 in the festival's genre program, Cinemania.
In a statement calling for a protest of the film, the media advocacy group GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) said, "GLAAD was recently alerted by community members and allies to a film called "Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives" that will be screened at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. "GLAAD has since seen the film in its entirety and says that the title is far from the only problem with this film."
Tribeca describes the six-film section as a set of "exciting and eclectic films that push the boundaries of creativity and genre, offering smart thrills, spine-tingling horror, imaginative alternative realities, and outrageous humor." The fest also notes that the films in the program are intended for mature audiences.
"The film, its title and its marketing misrepresent the lives of transgender women and use grotesque, exploitative depictions of violence against transgender women in ways that make light of the horrific brutality they all too often face," GLAAD said in a statement released Thursday by its Director of Public Relations, Richard Ferraro.
The organization goes on to criticize the way the film depicts its transgender characters, saying that the film portrays the trans characters akin to being cartoonish. "Because of its positioning as a transgender film, viewers unfamiliar with the lives of transgender women will likely leave this film with the impression that transgender women are ridiculous caricatures of 'real women.'"
The media watchdog group goes on to say, "It demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives and to be valued for their contributions to our society." GLAAD takes particular offense at the combination of the film's genre and subject, saying, "In this film, repeated shots of a baseball bat covered in clumps of hair and blood are grotesque – and serve only as horror movie-like gore... There is nothing funny about the murders of the countless LGBT people who have fallen victim to hate-motivated violence."
GLAAD goes on to criticize the film's vulgar marketing, adding, "Furthermore, the filmmakers have chosen to market 'Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives' using a crass trailer that opens with references to the recent murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado, putting their brutal murders on par with the outlandish violence in this film."
The organization claims that it has reached out to writer/director Israel Luna, the film's producer and the Tribeca Film Festival urging it to "pull 'Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives' from their schedule." It is also urging "community members" to contact Tribeca to ask that the film be removed from the lineup.
Countering their criticism and suggestion that the organization had "recently become aware of the film," the Tribeca Film Festival told indieWIRE Thursday evening that GLAAD had been given the film to review earlier this year and that the organization had shown initial support and even offered up marketing advice.
"The filmmakers provided a copy of this film to GLAAD in February, and for weeks the organization had been supportive to the filmmakers," said a TFF representative in a written response to an iW inquiry. "In fact, GLAAD representatives advised the film's producer, director and cast on how to describe the film to its core constituency. Tribeca is proud of its ongoing commitment to bring diverse voices and stories to its audiences, and looks forward to the film's premiere at our festival next month."
Speaking with indieWIRE Friday morning, writer/director Israel Luna said he stands by Tribeca's statement, adding that he had been in contact with GLAAD since February. In response to GLAAD's issues with the film's trailer, Luna said, "It's just a little movie that we shot, and our experience with movies is that you do your own trailer. You don't have the budget to make a trailer for $20,000. We did this all ourselves so that we could hopefully get into a festival... People are very offended by my mentioning the deaths of real-life trans women."
Luna added that the straight community is often unaware of the names of people who are instantly recognizable among the LGBT community, such as slain gay college student Matthew Shepard, which sparked a resurgence of gay rights activism following his brutal death in Wyoming earlier this decade.
"I went to an event where [Matthew's mother] Judy Shepard would be, and none of my straight friends knew who Judy or Matthew Shepard were. Outside of the LGBT community, no one knows these names. Few people know about Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado and their deaths. The movie doesn't start with this [historical context of Zapata or Mercado], but the more people see the trailer, the more people are aware of these deaths."
He went on to say that when editing the trailer, he was "specifically thinking 'Inglourious Basterds.' Tarantino takes this historical event that happened and makes a a fictional story about it. I'm doing the same thing." Responding to criticisms of his film's characters and actors, Luna noted, "The lead characters are performers at a gay club. So of course they're going to have crazy cool outfits and look beautiful. That's their character. I'm not going to say that this is what all transgender women look or act like."
Finally, Luna took up the accusations that the film's tone was too over the top considering the subject matter. "A lot of the banter is them ad libbing with my script. They're a lot funnier than I am. I agree that the baseball bat and the clumps of hair on the baseball bat are very disturbing. The deaths of transgender people are serious. It's not like somebody gets bashed and the audience laughs. When the movie gets serious, it gets serious. Just like any film, there's a certain flow that this movie has. My movie is not 'fight fight torture torture torture.' I tried to make a revenge fantasy. When I was making it, I thought I was doing something good. It's just a movie. It's a revenge fantasy, not a documentary."
[The GLAAD petition can be found on the change.org site here.]
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]